Jamie Biesiada
Jamie Biesiada

Earlier this month, Cruise Planners announced it would join Signature Travel Network at the end of September, a move spurred by the planned shuttering of American Express' travel representative network. The move adds a large seller to Signature — Cruise Planners is No. 18 on Travel Weekly's 2022 Power List — and gives the franchisor a home where it will find support and additive technology, marketing and training.

Once news of the representative network's demise made its way through the industry, the major consortia started reaching out, said Theresa Scalzitti, Cruise Planners' chief sales officer. The franchisor set up introductory calls, asking for the "full menu" of each consortium's offerings.

Along the way, Cruise Planners did ask itself the question of whether it even needed to join a consortium, because it already offers its members what they need to sell travel.

"But the more digging we did, and the more conversations we had with some of the top suppliers in the industry, it really kind of boiled down to, why not?" Scalzitti said.

Cruise Planners was impressed with all the consortia, she said, but in the end, it landed on Signature. Scalzitti said the two organizations gelled well, emphasizing three key areas: marketing, training and technology. Cruise Planners and Signature also had a heightened ability to integrate their systems, making the transition as seamless as possible.

Signature also operates as a member-owned cooperative, and the ability to help guide the network by having a seat at the table was attractive, Scalzitti said.

Alex Sharpe, CEO of Signature, said the first thing Signature considers when it is talking to a new agency is whether the cultural fit is a good one. That includes factors like "Do we like them? Do they make us better? Do they have the right ethics?"

"Cruise Planners, there's just a great halo effect," Sharpe said. "You forget about their production and all that, which is fantastic. Just people? Everyone loves them. The partners love them. Not just because they're nice people, but because they're great businesspeople."

Traditionally, Signature's member base is made up of small- to medium-size agencies that do between $2 million and $20 million in sales, Sharpe said. Cruise Planners is likely the largest representative network agency the co-op will onboard, he said.

Signature is talking to other representative network members. Three committed to Signature in September: National Travel Service, Boca Express Travel and Cruise Planners. Three prospective agencies will join Signature at its Owners' Meeting next week. Two other commitments are not yet public, he said, and there are another five prospective agencies in talks now.

He estimated Signature will onboard 8-10 representative network agencies.

"We've kind of tried to home in on the ones that we thought would be the best fit," he said. "We can't take them all. We might not be the right fit for them, or vice versa."

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